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May 29th, 2009
04:23 PM ET

The test ban treaty would help North Korea

Paula A. DeSutter
The Wall Street Journal

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/05/28/north.korea.alert/art.scope.afp.gi.jpg caption="South Korean soldiers use binoculars to look at North Korea on Wednesday in Paju, South Korea."]
North Korea has announced that it has tested another nuclear weapon. Detection of North Korea's October 2006 nuclear test has been touted as evidence that the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is verifiable. CTBT advocates will undoubtedly make the same argument for this week's test and assert that CTBT is important and that the United States should ratify it. Here is why both arguments are wrong.

Verification has two purposes: detection and deterrence. If you can't detect, you can't deter. But even if you can detect, you may not be able to deter.

With regard to seismic detection, North Korea is a best-case scenario. It is small, its known test site is granite, and it is not a seismically active region. In 2006 we collected noble gases to confirm the explosion was nuclear. Moreover, North Korea announces its tests. Detection of announced tests cannot be sold as proof of verifiability.

As for deterrence, it's a simple concept: convince others that the cost of taking an action you wish to prevent is far greater than any benefits. At a minimum, violators should not benefit from their violation.

The Obama administration's special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, has been touring the region warning of "dire consequences" if North Korea tests. Strong words, but likely empty of substance. Will we bomb their nuclear sites? Unlikely, even if we knew where most of them were. Trade restrictions? North Korea has nothing to sell to non-rogue states. Stop food aid? Americans don't want to punish the starving slave-citizens of North Korea for actions over which they have no influence. In fact, we've taught North Korea since the early 1990s that crime pays.

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Filed under: 360° Radar • North Korea • Nuclear Weapons
soundoff (One Response)
  1. Annie Kate

    The US should not give in to North Korea any more than it already has and should try to gain back some lost ground if possible. In the Cold War it was the nuclear abilities of the US vs. the USSR that we worried about; the real danger though was said to be small countries who might get nuclear power and either use it or sell it and then no one would know who had it or who might attack us. This was one of the biggest nightmares – with North Korea we see that nightmare now as reality. Our policy with North Korea needs to grow some teeth or we are going to find ourselves in a lot of trouble further down the road...the kind of trouble we wouldn't wish on our worst enemy.

    May 29, 2009 at 7:36 pm |